Wednesday, January 13, 2016

  • What if your students could accurately tell a visitor why they were doing what they were in your class?
  • What if your students could consistently assess their own learning and come to have a standard of excellence much like your own? 
  • What if your students could set goals for, and ultimately take responsibility for, their own education? 

In Jan Chappuis' Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning*, she identifies a set of tools that teachers can use to make these things happen. These strategies encourage students to consistently consider and answer three key questions: 
Where am I going? Where am I now? How can I close the gap?

Briefly, the seven strategies are designed to to develop in students the habits of thought they need to substantially improve their own learning, to move them from being passive recipients of assessment to being actively involved in their own learning. 

These seven strategies shouldn't be viewed as a recipe but rather as a set of practices to be used as needed. With that in mind, consider this collection of actions:

1. Provide students with a clear and understandable vision of the learning target.
A teacher once asked one of her students why they were learning what they were that day. The student's response was, "so we can make a poster". At that point the teacher stopped the class to make sure they all understood the purpose of the learning--which, of course, was not to make a poster. The poster was the method of processing and assessing the learning, not the learning itself. 

When students understand up front the goals of the learning they are more likely to learn what we want them to learn. Teachers who make a habit of posting and explaining the objectives or learning targets for the day help students to focus on the learning and not on the grade or the activity. 

2. Use examples and models of strong and weak work. 
Quality work should not be mystery. Giving students opportunities to work with scoring guides or rubrics using actual examples helps them to better understand what they are doing, and, consequently, to begin to take more responsibility for it. Strategy one provides students with clear and understandable goals. Strategy two gives them illustrations of levels of quality. 

3. Offer regular descriptive feedback.
With strategy three, we start to ask the question, 'where am I now?' This strategy focuses on students receiving feedback that is specific and descriptive, using language that references the language of the rubrics and learning targets. Grades are not feedback in this sense because they don't describe the quality of work. Praise, as well, is not generally effective in improving learning as it typically addresses the character of the student and not the characteristics of the work or skill. 

4. Teach students to self-assess and set goals.
Chappuis describes research that shows that students who are self-monitoring made larger gains in learning than those who weren't. Providing students with opportunities to self-assess and to set specific, challenging goals for their own learning has the effect of shifting responsibility for learning to the student and away from the teacher. 

5. Design lessons to focus on one learning target or aspect of quality at a time.
With this strategy students begin to think more about how they can 'close the gap'. Formative assessments reveal gaps in learning, the distance between the learning goals and the actual learning. By focusing on one partially understood concept or incomplete skill students can concentrate on closing those gaps. Teachers should be careful to not have students address too many items at a time, but to use models and examples to highlight those areas to be improved. 

6. Teach students focused revision.
Strategy six involves students in revising, with feedback, the items identified and addressed in strategy five. These two work together, with targeted instruction followed by targeted practice, all addressing any incomplete understanding. An example might include have students work in pairs to revise a previously-scored weak model, focusing on one piece of learning at a time. Or, students working alone or in pairs to revise certain elements of their writing, using the rubric. 

7. Engage students in self-reflection, and let them keep track of and share their learning.
Finally, when students reflect on their learning, and share observations about themselves as learners, their long-term memory is strengthened. 

These seven strategies are meant to encourage students to become more consciously engaged in their own learning, to understand where they are going, where they are now, and how they can close the gap. The ultimate purpose is to move them from passively receiving to actively pursuing their education. 

*Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning,  Jan Chappuis
(A new, 2nd edition features expanded discussion of strategies 5 and 6, with revised strategy names.)

Audio of my 2015 ACCS conference presentation on the seven strategies 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"...a man is both a seed and in some degree also a gardener, for good or ill. I am impressed by the degree in which the development of 'character' can be a product of conscious intention, the will to modify innate tendencies in desired directions; in some cases the change can be great and permanent."
J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien